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Labour, Resource

WRLA launches campaign to attract new talent to lumber industry

Grant Cameron
WRLA launches campaign to attract new talent to lumber industry

The Western Retail Lumber Association (WRLA) has launched a Let’s Go Build campaign to attract new talent to the lumber, building materials and hardgoods industry.

The organization, which represents 1,100 companies across Western Canada, the three northern territories and northwest Ontario, wants to increase awareness of the opportunities available in the sector.

A website has been set up with a dedicated hub to address queries from jobseekers, clear up misconceptions and help candidates find job openings.

A YouTube video has also been produced.

The industry is growing and in need of talent and, with older workers expected to retire soon, there are many types of jobs to be filled in the retail, manufacturing and distribution sides of the business and in management.

“It’s literally across the board,” says WRLA president Liz Kovach. “There’s so much diversity on the retail side and there’s always a need for people on the manufacturing side, and there’s always need for people on the distribution side. When it comes to some of those technical positions, that’s an area that we also need to focus on.”

The industry is crucial to Canada and has been growing, innovating and expanding for decades. The market size of the lumber and building materials industry in Canada was more than $108 billion in 2022, and it employs over 461,000 Canadians.

Kovach says a labour study was conducted recently and the organization found there is a large number of people working in the industry that are between 25 and 44 years of age. However, a majority of the senior management and technical positions are held by individuals who are between 40 and 54 years old.

“There’s a lot of experience that people have and we want to be able to groom the next generation to be able to backfill those positions because about 19 per cent of the industry is going to be retiring over the next five years.”

Kovach notes the industry must make sure it is honing-in on what it needs to do to train younger workers, how it conveys the message to its members and how to make it easy for people to get excited about the industry.

“I don’t think people really understand the value of what this industry brings until they’re in it,” she says. “There is a never-ending opportunity to learn as technology is becoming a bigger piece of what we do. But it’s more than just about selling building material. Our members truly do build communities. Right now, is a really important time to communicate that.”

If someone wants to run their own business, for example, they can learn on the job about the operations of a retailer or distributor, the importance of relationships and also what goes into the sales process, says Kovach.

“The more people understand the nuts and bolts, the more excited they will be about it.”

With significant growth expected in the industry, retailers, distributors and manufacturers will have to ramp up hiring.

“The industry, for sure, is growing and we know that we’re going to have to start increasing our hiring to keep up with the demand,” Kovach says. “We know that there is not enough housing supply right now in Canada and with more immigration coming in obviously we want to tap into that as a resource for employees.”

Immigration itself will also fuel demand for more housing and therefore lead to additional demand for wood products.

The challenge, says Kovach, will be getting information about the variety of careers that are available to the younger generation.

The WRLA will be promoting the Let’s Go Build campaign with its member companies and other industry partners.

“We really want this to become a very turnkey marketing program for membership,” says Kovach. “This is also going to be the brand for career fairs that we participate in and we’re going to continue to work with education so that we can get some of the training that we’re developing potentially as part of a stream within high schools.

“We want students to have the opportunity to learn and actually come out and have some employment opportunities.”

The WRLA is increasingly seeking partnerships with different school boards that will allow high school students to participate in work placements and earn credits towards their diplomas.

“We also want to be doing some more industry-specific career fairs because once students actually see how cool this industry is, the more apt they are to choose it for a career,” says Kovach.

Micah Flaig, a director at the WRLA and special project co-ordinator at Lumberworld, says the building industry is very robust and so is the workforce.

“There are so many different paths available – from forklift driver, to engineer, manager, carpenter, or accountant. Whether people are looking to change industries and find a new career path or fresh out of school looking for their first job, there are ample opportunities.”

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